Review: Cheap Eats at Myeongdong Halmuni Guksu (명동할머니국수 본점)

Myeongdong has plenty of options for a place to eat but when it comes to good options, the choices are quite limited.

"Good" is quite a broad and relative term but when it comes to eating, my qualification tends to boil down to one of two very general conditions:
1. The food is quite good (in taste, inspiration, atmosphere, etc) and worth its price (low or high).

2. The food is quite decent and of great value.

As for Myeongdong, finding a place that fits the bill for the first condition is really the equivalent of finding a diamond in the rough but for the second condition, there are a handful of places that are worth noting.

Today's post is all about one of them.

To be fair, Myeongdong Halmuni Guksu (which literally means "Myeongdong Grandmother Noodles") isn't some high-end restaurant but a chain of bunshik (cheap eating/snacking spots) that you can find around Seoul. When I used to work in the Gangnam area, I actually went to one of the branches on occasion for some quick noodles and kimbap. But the chain offshoots I went to were really nothing that indistinguishable from a Kimbap Cheonguk (a bigger chain of bunshiks around Korea). 

As the name might already tell you, Myeongdong Halmuni Guksu is based in this popular neighborhood and its the OG spot from where everything began for the franchise, right here in this humble store.

Tucked behind an alley off one of Myeongdong's main streets, Myeongdong Halmuni Guksu (which I'll hereon refer to as MHG) has been in operation here since 1958. This gives MHG almost 60 years to its name (making it even older than nearby Myeongdong Gyoja) and has been churning out noodles, soups, kimbaps and more. As I mentioned, it also marks the birth place of the now mega chain that has some 75+ stores around the country now. 

Everyday a big pot of water, dried anchovies, clams and other goodies is boiled to create the base for MHG's signature noodle dishes. Its Halmuni Guksu (essentially a janchi guksu) and tofu guksu are the best known and have been known for their cheap prices. Even today, the regular halmuni guksu will only set you back 4K while the tofu guksu is only 4.5K. Over the decades they've expanded the menu considerably to operate as a bunshik spot and now the menu includes bibim guksu (4.5K), fish cakes guksu (5.5K), kalguksu (5K), naengmeyon (5K), ddeokguk (5K), etc.

Even their various deop baps (stir fry topped rice which comes in spicy pork, spicy squid or tuna) are all 5K. A roll of kimbap, steamed dumplings (8 of them, no less) or bowl of instant ramen are all also only 3K. Other popular favorites such as kimchi bokkeumbap, bibimbap, etc are all 5K.

It's not easy to find joints in Myeongdong, let alone all of Seoul, where a meal can be as cheap as 4,000 won so it's not surprising to find first-time visitors to here ogle at the menu's prices.

The menu continues to expand and change over the season though the favorites always remain.

Though MHG has passed on in ownership from the original owner, her principles for good, cheap food that's also filling remains. The pickled radish (danmuji), rice, and pork are all still 100% Korean sourced and only recently, due to rising costs, that the kimchi began sourcing from China. It's still far ahead of other bunshik joints where, if you read the ingredients source list, reads out almost like a roster of UN countries.

In efforts to keep final costs down, much of MGH's process is self-serve. You get your own water and scoop out your own kimchi and danmuji from the little bowls all around. The servers will still take your order and bring your food to you. 

Very unassuming interior and often a frequent haunt of the various local workers from the nearby area. It's a nice quiet break from the altogether cacophony that Myeongdong generally is.

There's only one variety of kimbap available but it's cheap, fast, and made-to-order making it a nice side to get.

The noodles are the star here and you can get the somyeon in various styles such as regular, with tofu, fish, cakes, or mandu. But whatever you order, you get a generous bowl of noodles, filled to the brim with the homemade stock, and a few sprinkling of chopped scallions and toasted seaweed sheets.

Some of the noodles come with a bit of spicy seasoning to mix into which isn't spicy but you can still ask to leave out if you want.

Bibimbuksu and other dishes are also standard, ample in portion, and good.

One of the strongest merits about the place is the bits of freebies. Take the signature tofu noodles- you can even order extra noodles or tofu when you're almost done and you'll get your extras without additional charges. If you order the dry noodles or dishes, such as the bibimguksu, they usually give you a small bowl of the tofu noodles on the side for free as well.

Moreover, the ladies at the original store all know each other and are a friendly bunch, providing a personal touch that I haven't seen in the other franchise branches.

All in all, a quick, inexpensive and filling but still tasty option- which, is surprisingly not easy to fulfill all the criteria in Myeongdong.

3 out of 4 Stars
Begun with the intent to give customers a warm and filling meal at an inexpensive price, Myeongdong Halmuni Guksu's 60+ history is a testament to how it has won fans over the decades. The food is good and given its price and location in the heart of Myeongdong, it's one of the most inexpensive yet filling places to grab a meal.

서울특별시 중구 명동1가 42-43
Myeong-dong 1-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul Metropolitan Government, 42 - 43

Come out Euljiro 1-ga station's exit 5 and walk about 50 meters until you get to Myeongdong 9 gil (just before the big KEB bank building). Turn right down Myeongdong 9gil and walk about 100 meters. The street will split two ways in front of a 7-11 convenience store but stick to the right side along Myeongdong 7gil. The first small alley on your left (next to a Twotwo chicken store) is where you want to enter and you should see the entrance to Myeongdong Halmuni Guksu on your right.

Alley entrance from Myeongdong 7-gil





Extra noodles? No problem.